Thursday, December 23, 2004

Rufus

As a kid, it is hard to imagine anything as cute as a soft downy chick and when one hundred show up in a small crate, it can be down right overwhelming. My father had purchased them to raise for their eggs and meat. But for me, they were just another diversion along the path of my life.

Those cute chicks didn’t last long and soon they were developing into chickens, which I wouldn’t describe as cute at all. Some grew up into mottled red hens with red combs and the rest into white roosters with waddles on their necks and spurs on their legs. But one rooster in particular was a little bit bigger and his spurs were just a little bit longer than all the others. It was this rooster who would become an integral part of my life and for reasons not remembered, was given the name of Rufus.

It wasn’t easy retaining a healthy population of chickens in rural southeast Iowa due to the large coyote population, so for the safety of the chickens, we dutifully locked them up in the chicken house every night when they went inside roost. Every morning, one of the first chores done was to go out to the chicken house and open the door to let them out. Rufus would always be standing in front of all the other chickens when the door was opened, waiting to lead his flock out for the day’s pecking of food.

My father was the person responsible for unknowingly starting a tradition that would cause much fear in my life and much terror in my younger brother’s. When my father would go out and release the chickens in the morning, he would antagonize Rufus a little bit and get him to ruffle his feathers by acting like a chicken and pretending to charge after Rufus. Soon my father would take off at a run with Rufus angrily tearing along behind him trying to protect his flock from my father by chasing him away. The problem was that Rufus couldn’t distinguish my brother or I from our father.

When my brother and I had to open up that chicken house door in the morning, we had a well practiced ritual. Stealthy as Indians, we would creep up to the door and while one person removed the cinder block used to keep the door closed, the other would press as hard as he could to keep any demonized roosters from rushing out and eating us whole. Then quick as we could, the door would be thrown open, the block thrown in front of it to keep it from flying shut again, and off we would go flying across the lawn at the speed of light. If there was a record for running from the chicken house back to the safety of the front lawn, we set a new one every morning.

My father on the other hand, refined his technique over the months and soon had a very set tradition. Once he was able to get Rufus to start chasing him, he would run through the yard around the house to see how long he could keep Rufus chasing him. He would run just slow enough to maintain Rufus’s interest in catching him but fast enough that he never got caught, except for one memorable occasion.

My brother and I would often watch in delight from the relative safety of the kitchen stoop as Rufus chased our father. Then one day, our father decided to include the stoop in the morning chase and ran up the steps with Rufus on his heels in hot pursuit. My brother and I jumped for our lives over the side while our father went running by and jumped off the back of the stoop. That is when the event became memorable and will forever remain etched in my mind.

After hitting the ground on the backside of the stoop, my father crouched down where he was and Rufus jumped off of the back of the stoop and landed right in the center of my father’s back. For a split second, I think I saw fear in both their eyes as my father hurriedly jumped up out of his crouched position and Rufus fell to the ground. My father briefly afraid that Rufus might use his long spurs on his back and Rufus afraid that he had actually caught this person after all this time and didn’t know what to do next. But once they had separated, their pride took over and both acted like they had meant for it to happen but the chase was over for that morning.

As Rufus reached his prime, he got a little bit more aggressive in protecting his hens. If we were to get too close to him for his liking, he would ruffle his feathers and if we weren’t on the run in short order, he would take to chasing us until he was convinced that we were no longer a threat.

My brother and I were very respectful of this fact and gave Rufus a wide berth while playing outside, but occasionally we pushed it too far. One day while playing out in the front yard near where my mother was hanging up laundry, I heard a blood-curdling scream come from the vicinity of the chicken house. Like a fire engine siren that gets louder as it approaches, my brother’s scream kept getting louder until he rounded the corner of the garage and went running towards my mother’s protection at full steam.

I was to the side and could immediately see what was happening, but my mother was in the line of sight and didn’t know what was wrong until she bent down to gather my brother in her arms fearing that he had hurt himself and he kept on running right on past her. Only then did she see Rufus running for all he was worth, chasing my brother so close that he was in the shadows of my brother’s footsteps. My mother ran for the broom and soon had the chase broken up but it was a while longer before my brother would go anywhere near Rufus.

There was one person in our family whom Rufus never chased and that was my grandfather. My grandfather had developed a large spare tire around his middle in his old age and didn’t move very fast anymore. One evening when he came over to our house for dinner and got out of his truck, Rufus decided that he was a threat and proceeded to ruffle his feathers and strut around much to everyone’s amusement. When Rufus felt that my grandfather wasn’t leaving fast enough, that rooster charged him only to be sent flying backwards in an arc ten feet high by a well-placed kick from my grandfather. Rufus hit the ground dazed and confused much to my grandfather’s delight and finally strutted off as if he had planned it that way the whole time. But in all the rest of Rufus’s years, he never ruffled a feather towards my grandfather again.

Eventually, my brother and I grew big enough where we weren’t afraid of Rufus anymore and during that time he grew less aggressive, or at least he wasn’t able to chase us like he used to anymore. It was also during these days, that my father showed us how if you placed a chicken’s head under their wing and slowly rubbed it that you could put the chicken to sleep.

One Thanksgiving celebration after every one had eaten, my brother and I decided the time had come to fight our fears and we went outside to look for Rufus. He must have new the gig was up, for when he saw us coming for he immediately started running away. But taking turns, my brother and I chased him all over the farm until Rufus, worn out and cornered; finally allowed us to catch him. Poor Rufus never had a chance and soon he was sitting fast asleep out on the kitchen stoop for everyone to see much to our delight.

Over the years, coyotes had thinned down our chicken population by catching those who failed to roost in the chicken house at night. More casualties were suffered among their ranks at the hands of vehicles running them over on the nearby gravel road as they went by and yet still others were killed for the meat. As a result, our chicken flock of one hundred chickens was reduced down to a dozen hens and Rufus.

Although our parents told us they were giving the chickens to our neighbor to watch for us while we went on a vacation, in reality they were giving the remainder to him because it was no longer worth raising so few chickens. Our neighbor, who had purchased the other half of the chickens my father ordered, added them to his flock that hadn’t been so thinned out by coyotes and cars. And so when we got home from the vacation, the chickens just stayed over at our neighbors place never to set foot on our farm again.

It was about this time that we adopted a stray dog by the name of Ted who showed up one day at my grandfather’s farm. Ted was only a year old at the time and liked to roam, so he soon found our neighbor’s chicken flock and proceeded to kill several of them before being caught by our neighbor. When my father arrived, he tied a couple of the dead chickens to Ted’s collar and proceeded to scold him to let Ted know that killing chickens was wrong. Ted showed his remorse by hanging his head and putting his tail between his legs and we thought that was the end of it. But Rufus would come into my life one last time by a sort of passing of the torch.

Ted showed up one afternoon bleeding profusely from numerous deep wounds all over his face and body. It looked as if he had fought the mother of all battles and had barely won. We cleaned and treated Ted’s wounds but it wasn’t until that evening that we learned the full story. Our neighbor called to say that Ted had been over in our his chickens again and killed some more hens and one rooster, Rufus.

Hens don’t have spurs so I knew that the inflictor of all those wounds had been Rufus. I knew Rufus had fought to the death protecting his flock of hens from Ted, and in the end, Rufus had succeeded. We never punished Ted for the incident, because he was too sick at the time. But in all the years following that fight, Ted never killed another chicken again. I was devastated knowing that the rooster that I had loved had been killed by a dog I was only beginning to love and it wasn’t until I was older that I found peace in the incident. Rufus was getting older and no one likes seeing a loved one grow old before your eyes and eventually die. So it was fitting that Rufus died as he lived his life, brave and protecting his flock.

A Short Fairy Tale

Once upon a time in a shop in Hutchinson town, worked a fair maiden by the name of Annie. This young maiden, had locks of gold that reflected the morning’s sunlight like a well polished mirror. None in all the land knew a more exquisite beauty and everybody assumed that such a person was surely betrothed to another. But Annie worked all day long slaving away for her employer and then went home to her empty cottage assuming that all that knew her thought she was hideous and something to avoid.

One year ago to this very day, a young lad named Jack stumbled upon Annie by chance on a fair sunny day when her locks reflected the most. He was blinded so much that it took the very breath from his chest and left him speechless before her. But young Jack was not blinded by her beauty outside as were all the other lads but by the beauty that radiated from her heart.

For Jack was pure at heart and soul for he was the last of the true romantics that roamed the land. He had been searching for the woman who would whisper the words that he longed to hear. Many had tried over the years but none had uttered the correct ones and so he wandered from one village to the next looking in all the maidens’ eyes searching for the one that he would love for all time until he saw Annie.

Jack’s heart swelled with a feeling he had never felt before in all his time and he struggled to remain collected with his wits for he had yet to hear those words that he longed to hear. Jack rose every morning that he was to meet young Annie with a light in his eyes and warmth in his heart wondering if today would be the day. He befriended Annie, continuing to find out more about her and to slowly revealing more about him. Jack told Annie of his dreams and desires while showing her everything he had in hopes that she would someday whisper the words that he so longed to hear.

One day, one year from the very day they met, Jack learned that another lad had smote the young maiden and his heart was broken in two by the news. For weeks, he tried to remain to young Annie the person he had been before but it surely got to him like water eventually cracks the rock and so young Jack set off for lands unknown.

Jack sailed the seven seas seeking to grab death by the heels to relieve him of his misery but death could not be found. He wandered roamed the seven continents and saw the seven wonders of the world in hopes that their beauty could make him forget that of Annie but was only further reminded of what he had left behind him. Years would pass and the nights only seemed to grow colder to Jack until he gave up his search for death and went back to an area he knew well from his travels as a youngster on the River of the Buffalo.

There is where we find Jack one cool winter day in his twenty seventh year, sitting on a rock overlooking the Valley of the Buffalo with a tear rolling down his cheek. He had vowed to remain here until Mother Nature herself had removed the last breath from his lungs as the young maiden he had seen in Hutchinson town. He sat there accepting his fate when a voice seemed to come from the very mountain behind him and caress his soul. The voice said, “You are my destiny, for our destiny is one.”

In a flash, Jack was up and young Annie was in his arms wiping the tears from his face with kisses as sweet as a mountain spring. He had finally heard those words that he longed to hear for so many years and he was happier than anything he had ever known. They were wed in a simple ceremony befitting of a pauper but it mattered not for all who attended were blinded by the purity of their love for each other and it was passed on through the centuries by other romantics who arose from the ashes to search for their true love. And so Jack and Annie live happily every after because they were each other’s destiny and their destiny was one.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Flying the Thrill-a from Manila

I am reminded of a nightmare of a plane trip myself. It all started the day before I was to leave when I got an email saying that my flight itinerary had changed and to please call Expedia whom I had bought the tickets from. My direct flight from Chicago to Hong Kong had been cancelled and was replaced instead by two flights and a stop in Los Angles. Since it was too late to get new tickets, I was to report to the scheduling desk and they would make the changes there the next day. The next day arrives and they issue me the new tickets for the trip out but said that only in Manila, Philippines (my destination) could my new tickets be issued for the trip back. Okay, good to go and other than four more hours added to my trip time, I made it to Manila without incident.

Now flash forward a couple weeks when I am at the Manila airport heading home. I had a bundle of souvenirs that wouldn't fit in my suitcases so I had wrapped them with a couple rolls of packaging tape and took them with me. Their completely wrapped shape looked like three rifles bundled together but they didn't ask me to do anything other than write my address on them with magic marker since their identification tags couldn't be attached. I gave them to the attendant fully expecting to never see them again but two days later they would be there waiting for me. Besides the souvenirs, I also had a huge head cold that I had picked up during my stay in the Philippines and it was rapidly getting worse. I struggled to concentrate as the lady at the desk said that they couldn't issue all my return tickets as the lady in Moline, Illinois (where I had started my trip) had told me. But they would issue me the first ticket to Hong Kong. Once again, good to go.

I got on my plane and doped myself up with cold medicines and Dramamine. A typhoon was currently lashing Manila bay so I dozed in and out of consciousness as we sat on the tarmac waiting for a lull in the storm to take off. The winds tapered down to a relatively calm 80 mph and suddenly the plane started up and lurched off the runway in the space of about two minutes. That is the fastest I think I have ever gone from loading dock to air! The airplane lurched and bounced like a children's toy boat in an ocean in the turbulence as we flew over the typhoon. At least five people in the immediate vicinity of my threw up and I would have joined them if it hadn't been for the Dramamine. But that didn't stop me from getting really green in the gills.
Down in Hong Kong, I now raced to try and make my connection. The air pressure changes had packed my head full of snot and I couldn't breath or hear plus I was starting to get chills and my forehead was sweating. The ticket lady there wouldn't issue me a ticket and it was after an hour of wrangling that I was finally able to get through the language barrier and explain the situation. They gave me the same speech, we can only issue you the ticket to Los Angles and they will issue you the rest. Yeah, yeah, yeah, good to go again.

Now running through the airport, head feeling like it was going to explode, a fever setting in, I come to a checkpoint where they are taking everyone's temperatures. SARS was still a big issue at the time in Hong Kong and everyone was wearing surgical masks and I had been warned before my trip that anyone with a high fever would be quarantined until tests could be run to see if they had SARS. Just my luck, I was going to get this far and end up being quarantined with a bunch of people who probably did have SARS and I would never see the United States again. I wiped all the sweat off my forehead, dried my watering eyes and fanned my forehead with my boarding pass as I waited for my turn. They placed the thermometer on my forehead and he paused to frown at the thermometer as I held my breath. He finally nodded and turned his attention to the next person in line. I took the nod as an OK and ran off down the hall. I made the plane just as they were shutting the gate doors behind me and crashed into my seat. Nothing stopping me now!

The typhoon that had been lashing Manila bay on the way north was now approaching Hong Kong and our route to Los Angles went right over it for a second time and again I was tossed around like a ping pong ball in a bingo cage. I redosed myself with cold medicines and Dramamine though according to the directions I needed to wait another four hours. I immediately passed out only to waken some fourteen hours later on the decent into LAX. Finally I really did get tickets issued for the rest of the trip and a short wait and another flight later, I was now in Chicago and feeling like the walking dead. Unfortunately, when they rescheduled all my tickets the day before I had left, my short layover in Chicago turned into an overnighter before my last flight to Moline left first thing in the morning. I had eight hours to kill but because I would have to check out and then check back in, I figured that I would only get about four hours of sleep if I left the premises for a motel so I decided to camp out in the terminal.

I fastened all my luggage to my body and found a bench down a deserted concourse where I attempted to sleep. But the constant announcements to keep track of all my luggage every thirty minutes, floor waxes, sweepers, janitors, cleaners walking by made sleep impossible despite my zombie like state. After three hours of tossing and turning, I grabbed my bags and walked the interior perimeter of the airport killing two hours. So I did it again killing another two hours. Finally the food shops started opening up and I sat down for a quick meal all the while the waitress stared at me as if I was on drugs...... the illegal kind. I guess a sniffling man, sweating bullets in a cold restaurant and in desperate need of a shave and clean clothes automatically signifies drugs. My plane came, I made it home with my bundle of rifles looking package of souvenirs and fell into bed and remained there for the next two days. Never was I so glad to be home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Death of Ted

I drove down the long driveway and pulled into my customary spot underneath the large elm tree on the west side of the house. Ted was lying in the grass which was unusual. He normally would run out to greet me as I was coming down the driveway but today he just laid there in the sun dappled shade. As I got out of the car and approached, he remained unmoving with no sign of life, causing my heart to skip a step. When I reached him, knelt down and called his name, he feebly wagged his tail and turned his eyes in my direction. I knelt there scratching Ted behind the ears, allowing my eyes to drift down his body and I could see a large shaved area on his abdomen where all his golden reddish fur had been removed down to the skin. A large scar that had been sutured shut now stretched across the area. My parents hadn't said anything about Ted undergoing any kind of surgery so I figured it must have been some sort of accident that had just happened. I continued to stoke his head for a few minutes and then went inside the house.

Mom was at the kitchen sink when I walked in and from the look of inquiry on my face, went directly into an explanation without waiting. The years of arthritis medicine had taken their toll on Ted's internal organs and they were failing. Ted was dying. I asked how long but she didn't know. Ted had undergone exploratory surgery yesterday where he had been diagnosed and as long as he wasn't in too much pain, my parents decided to care for him until he died. They hadn't wanted to put him to sleep at the vets office and had wanted to give me a chance to say goodbye. That spring morning had been such a beautiful one that my mom had moved him outside to lay underneath the large elm tree where Ted could keep an eye on everything. She thought he would be happy there and I agreed.

Ted had shown up about seven years ago near my grandfather's farm thin and starving and after searching for an owner, we had adopted him, brought him home with us, where we nursed him back into health. A couple years later, Ted started getting lame in the rear hip and we decided to take him into the veterinarian to see what was wrong. After some tests and putting two and two together, we were able to piece together some of Ted's history. He probably was meant to be a hunting dog since he was a Golden Retriever/Yellow Labrador mix but as we already had found out, was gun shy. The owner had probably beat him in an attempt to train him but it hadn't worked. No longer interested in him, they had tried to scare him into running off but he had kept coming back and so they had shot him, hitting him in the rear hip. By the time Ted arrived in our possession, his physical wounds had healed but he had a lot of emotional ones. He would cower whenever a hand was raised even if it were just to scratch behind his ears. With time and patience, Ted would grow to trust us and this would fade with the years. Ted never liked to be out of site of everyone, something that never did fade away and loud noised would always scare him, but at long as we were close by he would remain, albeit with a "I'm miserable" look in his eyes.

But at the age of three, the old buck shot wounds were started to cause arthritis in his hip leaving Ted in constant pain. The doctor had said there was nothing that he could do with an operation but that he had an experimental drug used to eliminate the symptoms of arthritis in race horses that we could give him in the form of an injection once a month. We did and it worked. After the shot, Ted would be unshackled from his pain and he could be an active dog again until the pain started creeping in again towards the end of the month. He seemed to sense that the shots were taking away the pain because he never objected when the time came to administer the medicine. That same medicine that gave him four more years of a pain free life, had also taken its toll on Ted's body and now he was dying.

As I walked outside to go help my dad out in the fields with the spring tillage, I sat down beside Ted, put his head in my lap and spent awhile talking to him and stroking his head. Planting season was fast approaching and every minute counted but something inside me felt that I needed to tell Ted what was on my mind. I thanked him for all the good memories that we had together over the years and told him I was sorry that things had to end this way. As I talked to him, I could see his eyes looking into mine and that old fire in them was still burning. I told him goodbye and that I would spend the entire evening with him when I got done working in the fields. A half hour after arriving home, I drove off again towards the fields leaving Ted lying in the green grass in the shade of the large elm tree.

Barely another half hour would pass, when I heard my mom's voice over the CB radio saying that Ted had died. I continued working the fields in silence letting the memories flow as freely as the tears. Instead of my life, it was Ted's life flashing before my eyes and I watched his movie being played in my mind. Both my father and I worked until well after dark, neither of us wanting to go back to the farm and face the reality. When I finally came home, I fueled up the tractor and put it away in the shed where I noticed a tarp wrapped object resting in the other tractor with a scoop on the front. It had been raised up off the ground to keep other animals away and I knew that Ted's body was beneath the tarp. I told Ted happy hunting and that I would see him in the morning.

By dawns early light, Ted was buried beneath the outreached limbs an old oak tree fifty yards from the house. It is a peaceful spot unadorned by anything and covered only by the hardy prairie grasses that grow there beneath the shade. I still visit his grave now and then when I visit my parents to talk to him but mostly I just live with his memories inside me. He was a dog huge in heart and taught me that it is possible to love again even after experiencing so much hurt. I will always be glad that he could hang onto life so that I had a chance to tell him goodbye.

Thanks for the memories Ted.

Friday, December 10, 2004

A Single White Flower

In the meadow grows
a single white flower
Beaded in dew
reflecting the sunlight
Through it runs the earth's axis
and the world spins
If but for a second

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Human Virus

AGENT SMITH: Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment. But you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area.

He leans forward.


AGENT SMITH: There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.

He smiles.


AGENT SMITH: Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague. And we are... the cure.

I've always been intrigued by those lines from the movie The Matrix and believe that there is quite a bit of truth to them. I looked them up while researching for a comparison I was hoping to make in another post that I am currently working on but I don't think that it will work. It's too much of a stretch but I still felt that they are post worthy words.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Evil Empire Behind That Yellow Smiley Face

A shadow is racing across the American landscape gobbling up land, destroying families and businesses, tearing the very soul out of what it means to be American. It is a devouring beast that ruthlessly stomps on workers, neighborhoods, competitors and suppliers. It is sending millions of jobs overseas while distributing our money to countries like China and Russia. It leaves behind cities in decay and turns once vibrant cultural towns into industrialized seas of concrete. Yet, the majority of Americans welcome it into their homes and even invite it into their communities with open arms. What started out as the ideological American success story has become a money thirsty vampire sucking every penny it can from the every American consumer and every dime from every supplier. Wal-Mart has become the evil empire.

How can we not welcome a company that claims to slash prices to the bone in order to provide us "Always Low Prices," even though they banked over $7 billion dollars last year making it one of the most profitable entities on the planet? With almost $250 billion dollars a year in revenue, they account for 2.5% of the Gross Domestic Product and are the largest single employer. I can't fault them for trying to make a buck because that it what business is all about but at what cost are we as a society paying for it?

They have 1.4 million employees, whom if you believe the commercials, are excited about the career possibilities, money and benefits that they receive at Wal-Mart. Truth be told, only 70% of their workers are full time and therefore qualify for benefits. For a 40 hour week, the average yearly wage is a whopping $15,000 but Wal-Mart considers 28 hours a week to be "full time" which drops the gross wages down to under $11,000 per year. The other 30% of the workers don't even get this level of poverty. The great health care benefits that they tout only come after two years of service, which with above 50% annual turnover rate (some as high as 300%), means very few qualify. In fact, only 38% of Wal-Mart's employees are covered under their insurance and those that are, pay over a third of their own insurance premiums.

In the mid nineties, Wal-Mart's slogan was "We buy American," but after being called out several times on their claim, they dropped the slogan in 1998. By 2001, even their world purchasing headquarters had been moved to China and now we are the largest importer of Chinese-made products in the world at the tune of over $10 billion a year. Seventy-one percent of all toys sold in the United States now come from China and Wal-Mart sells one out of five of the toys we buy.

Charlie Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee has reported, "In country after country, factories that produce for Wal-Mart are the worst," adding that the bottom-feeding labor policy of this one corporation "is actually lowering standards in China, slashing wages and benefits, imposing long mandatory-overtime shifts, while tolerating the arbitrary firing of workers who even dare to discuss factory conditions." The NLC interviewed workers in China's Guangdong Province where Wal-Mart's popular action figures and dolls are made and found that 16-hours days are the norm with 20-hour shifts not uncommon. China's minimum wage is 31 cents per hour while the average production worker at these factories only are paid 13 cents per hour. From their wage, $1.95 per week is subtracted for rental of their 7 feet by 7 feet company dorm, which the share with normally a dozen other workers. They also pay $5.50 a week for food and must pay for all their own medical treatment and are fired if too ill to work. Not a single workers had heard of Wal-Mart's "code of conduct" that they claim to uphold at all their production facilities.

When Wal-Mart moves into a community, its effect is like that of a neutron bomb, sucking out the economic vitality and all of the local character. With Supercenters averaging 200,000 square feet (or four football fields under one roof), these things have more kill power than ever and devour local businesses at an alarming rate. Drug stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores and many other retailers are all being driven out of business leaving behind vacant shells in once vibrant downtown streets. Non-competing businesses are also leaving the downtown areas fighting to set up next to a Wal-Mart in order to capitalize off their customers, leaving behind even more empty buildings. For every two jobs that Wal-Mart creates, three decent jobs are lost, replaced by a staff of part-time poorly paid employees that can hardly build the family wealth necessary to sustain a middle-class living standard.

Why should we accept this? Is it our country, our communities, our economic destinies -- or theirs? A new Supercenter is being built now at a rate one every 1.65 days. How much time is left before it is too late to stop them? Is it already too late?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 17: The End

Just beyond the edge of Donald’s eyesight, there is a book lying in the leaves with the pages fanned out towards the clearing sky. A few feet beyond that are another book, a third one some ten feet further wedged up in the crotch of a tree and more, strung out like breadcrumbs in a fairy tale. Fifty feet past the RV, the trail of books leads to a figure propped up by a mangled backpack still strapped to their back. Only a mere foot past the soul of a sprawled out leg, the land drops away into the canyon leaving an open expanse of air. As the crow flies, it was probably only a mile down to the Buffalo River, which remained hidden among the barren trees and bone white bluffs.

As you get closer, you can see the caved in chest of the man moving slightly and hear a thin rasping of air as it fights it’s way into the lungs and feebly exhaled. Blood was everywhere as it pooled onto a portion of the rocky shelf that the wind had kept clear of leaves. The moon finally breaks free from the clouds shining a white light down upon the scene making the blood on the rock look like shadows. The bloodied face of the man moves slightly and then lifts off the sunken chest and flops back onto the bent frame of the pack. The moonlight glints off of one eye as it stares vacantly down the valley, the other eye lost in the shadows of blood.

Jack felt no pain as he stared off down the valley, only peace. His body was broken and all control of it had left. He remembered being seeing the outline of his body traced onto the forest floor by a bright light behind him before being sent hurtling through the air by something that hit him from behind. His last memory up until now had been hitting a tree about fifteen feet up in the air and the immense weight of his pack squeezing him like a bug on a windshield. Now here he was all busted up and dying, lying on a shelf of rock amongst the trees.

His one eye that worked stared off over the valley where the moonlight reflected off of so many drops of rain still clinging to the branches of trees like jewels. The sandstone of the rocky bluffs along the river stood out white in stark contrast to the darkened trees and shadows all around. It was so beautiful he thought, so damn beautiful.

Off in the distance, he heard a man talking but he couldn’t speak and even if he could, the beauty of the night captivated his attention. Slowly, like the fadeout option of his computer screensaver in the life he had left behind, details of the scene started disappearing, one by one. His vision narrowed down to one silvery drop of rain hanging onto a branch only a foot and a half in front of his eyes. As he tried to focus on that one glorious sight, it let loose, falling just as his vision went dark for the last time. His breath rattled from between his lips and the head sank forward to rest once again, on the sunken remains of his chest that no longer moved. Silence returned to the world.

Walking Away - Chapter 16: The Wreck

The rain has let up to a light drizzle and is the only sound when Donald regains consciousness. He opens his eyes and lets the world swim into focus though the images he sees doesn’t immediately make since. Everything was upside down. As he studies the debris lying around him, he realizes that the RV has come to a rest on its top and he was still suspended in his seat by his seatbelt. He stares in fascination at his hand and legs seeing no apparent damage though shards of glass and twisted metal were all around him. He flexes his hands and wiggles his toes not able to believe that he could survive such destruction. A feeling of elation started to fill his mind upon finding all digits and appendages still moved with no apparent injuries when one single thought filled his mind. Lydia!

He quickly fumbles up and to his right searching for the seatbelt release button, which he found and pressed. For a second he thought it had jammed but it released and he plunged head first into the debris below him. He had just enough time to stick one arm out before he hit the ceiling of the cab. This time however, he didn’t escape injury when his head slammed down sending stars shooting across his vision. When he sat up and felt his head, he felt a small cut in his scalp and there was some blood on his hand but he knew he hadn’t done anything serious. It was a long way from his heart he could hear his mom saying.

Donald scrambled to where he could look down what was now just a crawl space between the floor and the ceiling of the living quarters of the RV and called for his wife. A weak voice that sounded like his wife asked for help behind him somewhere outside. He crawled out of the RV through the shattered windshield on his hands and knees feeling shards of glass and metal cut into his palms and shins from the thick carpet of wet leaves all around. Standing up, he called his wife’s name again and peered into the darkness ahead.

He heard a groan coming from about fifteen feet away to his left and spotted his wife reclining against the trunk of a tree. He rushed over to her doing a visual inspection as he knelt down beside her. There was blood in her hair from a several gashes she had received when she flew through the windshield and her thighbone was obviously broken in a couple places but other than that she seemed intact.

Donald spent a couple minutes asking Lydia questions and diagnosing the extent of her injuries, which appeared to be just a broken leg and several cuts on her face and forehead. He also thought she may have a concussion but overall, she would live. He went back to the wreckage of the RV where he found a blanket, which he used to wrap around her to ward off the cold air. When she was comfortable, he set off through the broken underbrush following it to where the RV had left the road. Across the road, he saw the pickup that had ran into him in the opposite ditch with the front passenger side crumpled.

He walked around to the driver side of the vehicle and opened the door expecting the worst. At first, he thought the worst had happened when the man inside was slumped over the steering wheel but when he poked him, the man stirred slightly and mumbled something about letting him sleep. He pushed against the man’s shoulder and shook him but a loud snore was all that came from the man. Nothing but a damn drunk thought Donald as he reached over and extracted the keys from the still running ignition. All this because of a damn drunk.

Donald walked back across the road and crawled back into the wrecked RV searching among the debris for his cell phone, which he found after about ten minutes. He hit the talk button and to his surprise, the screen lit up and the signal strength showed all the bars. He punched in 911, told them where he was, that his wife needed an ambulance and a drunk needed to be thrown in jail. He said he didn’t need to stay on the line as nothing appeared life threatening but they should hurry just the same.

The rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to clear. He figured in another half hour the full moon would be visible but the thought wasn’t very cheering at the moment. He walked over to his wife where she was leaning against the tree, sat down beside her and put his arms around her shoulder. He said that the ambulance would be here in an hour or so and told her to hang on. The pain was beginning to register in her face but she was a trooper and he knew that she could do it. She leaner her head onto his shoulder and whispered something about missing the end of her show before mercifully passing out.

Walking Away - Chapter 15: Donald Makes a Decision

Up ahead in the glow of some approaching headlights, Donald thought he saw someone walking across the road carrying a load of something on their back. He focused on the spot where the person had disappeared in the shadows for a moment and then focused back on the approaching lights now rounding the curve. In a split second, he realized that the lights belonged to a pickup truck now fully in his lane and heading right at him. He cranked his wheel hard to the left but not fast enough. The truck smashed into the rear passenger side of the RV with a sickening crunching sound sending every loose object, including his wife, flying. Momentum, kept the RV going straight off the outside of the curve and into the woods, the branches flailing at the windshield and sides. Donald, with hands still on the wheel, was tugging for all he was worth trying to steer back towards the vicinity of the road. A loud thud caused him to look up just in time to see a large sweet gum tree directly in his path. The last thing he heard was the implosion of glass.

Walking Away - Chapter 14: Crossing the Road

When Jack approached Highway 43, he could see the glow of headlights rounding the curve in the direction of Ponca. As he walked across the road, the lights illuminated him through the rain for a brief moment before he stepped into the shadows and made his way across the trailhead parking lot to the trail. He hadn’t noticed the RV coming down the road from the opposite direction.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 13: Missed Turn

His eyes felt like lead weights and his body felt like it was ten feet away from his head. He was exhausted and trying to find his way to a place he had never been before in this miserable weather. The heat in the pickup was cranked at full bore to ward off the chills that were starting to invade his body. Now when he didn’t think he could stay awake for another minute, he had gone and done some jackass move like this one.

Doug had started heading down the mountain when he realized his mistake. He had passed Highway 103 and had been looking for the next road, which should have been Fire Tower Road but he had evidently passed it. About a mile past Highway 103, there had been a sharp curve in the road and as he had gone by with a string of traffic, he had glimpsed a man with a backpack standing along the road. As he looked in the rearview mirror wondering why the hell someone would be out hiking in this kind of weather, he had evidently missed his turn off. Why else would someone be waiting to cross the road if there hadn’t been another road going somewhere else? The man had said that if he started heading back down the mountain he had gone to far but with a trailer, he couldn’t just stop and back up all that way in the middle of this storm. He had no choice but to drive the three miles down the mountain to Ponca, turn around and head back the way he’d come.

Between the long hours driving, the rain, and the cold medication, he was zonked and ready to get some sleep for a few hours. To hell with the man to whom he was supposed to deliver the car, the delivery time had already passed and being late was a guaranteed certainty. If he was going to be late anyway, he might as well catch a few hours of sleep after he picked up the car and leave back for Iowa first thing in the morning. He had lost his profit margin on this hot shot run but right now, he didn’t give a damn. What he would give to be home, watching some nudie flick with his buddies, and drinking a beer.

As he neared the top of the mountain where the road began to straighten out, his head began to slowly tilt forward as if tumbling off his shoulders. The approaching lights of a car heading down the mountain turned the cab of the truck into a shimmering blue halo of light as it refracted through the rain and off the wet pavement. Doug’s head slowly reeled back up as if being pulled by a string and if the occupants of the car heading down the mountain could have seen him, they would have seen that his eyes were closed.

Walking Away - Chapter 12: The Last Load

Jack emerged from the trees on the trail and crossed the small trailhead parking lot to the highway. He heard them coming before he saw them due to the heavy rain so he waited before crossing. A string of cars went flying by followed by a jacked up pickup truck with KC lights and two Dixie flags on the rear window pulling an empty trailer. The knobby tires really whined against the blacktop giving the allusion of extreme speed. It was still going way to fast for the conditions Jack thought as he crossed the road after the traffic had passed by.

He walked back to the cabin for his last load of gear, which would be one of the heaviest loads but worth the most to him. He opened the rear trunk of his car and started stuffing his backpack with books. Most of the books were ones that had been given to him over the years or ones that he had bought, all of which he hadn’t had time to read. Now that he would have the time, he meant to correct this problem. He also had a dozen bound journals filled with his writing that he meticulously filled up over the last ten years along with a dozen more that were filled with blank pages. He hoped to remedy that problem as well.

He had saved these until last hoping that the rain would let up but it had only gotten worse instead. Jack had briefly thought about just spending the night in the cabin and making the trip tomorrow but felt that this was probably a test to see if he was really serious about this whole endeavor. He was stripping himself from civilization and wanted to pass this test, needed to pass this test. There were some empty plastic garbage bags in the cabin and after he got the load arranged, he would cover it with one of those. His pack was water resistant but with this load, he wanted it to be waterproof.

Jack had grown up without a television, which by the standards of society was quite odd. He hadn’t felt odd about it because living on a farm meant there was always something to do. When he was younger, Jack and his brother would always play in the acres of land or in one of the dozen or so buildings after school until his parents got in from the fields. Bedtime was always at eight o’clock so there was never much idle time to fill. When he was older, he helped his parents in the fields until evening and even though he didn’t have a bedtime, he was often in bed by 9:30 to rest up for another day of school and farming. He and his brother had also owned their own pumpkin growing business from which they put their proceeds into a bank account to pay for college some day. While his peers where raving about Dallas and MacGuyver, he was working and paying for his future education.

When they weren’t in the field or otherwise doing something to occupy their time, Jack’s parents read books and as a result, Jack grew up to be a voracious reader. Before his teenage years, he had completely read through all the books at the local public library. The library had given him a special pass free of charge to a larger library in a neighboring county thirty miles away to accommodate his appetite for reading, and once a week, his mother would bring back a paper grocery sack of books for him and his brother to read. By the time he graduated high school, he had made a huge dent in their inventory of books and they even had set up a sharing program with yet another library in the state capital to rotate new reading material through the library.

When Jack went to college, this all changed. His roommate had brought a television set with him and it didn’t take long for Jack to become addicted. While books gathered dust, he watched games shows and sitcoms that for years everyone had been talking about and he had never seen. When there was free time and nothing was on television except infomercials, Jack felt like he should read his college textbooks instead of reading for pleasure.

After college, Jack bought a cable ready television of his own with his first paycheck and then soon realized how addicted he had become. One day he had finally made a vow to stop watching any show of which he couldn’t remember what had happened in a week’s time. His television time went from four hours a night down to probably five hours a week and once again he had rediscovered his passion of reading. Despite this, he seemed to collect books faster than he could read through them and now he thought he might be able to catch up.

Jack tucked the plastic over and around the books, cinched the top of the pack and tied down the cover. He shouldered the load, which he estimated must weigh close to one hundred pounds and adjusted the straps. It was twice as heavy as his previous loads but he wanted to be done for tonight and besides, it was all downhill from here. He walked to the road, which the locals called Fire Tower Road for the fire tower about a mile further up the mountain, and began walking down the shoulder to the trailhead one hundred yards away.

Walking Away: Chapter 11: Road Rage

“God damn it!” Doug shouted in frustration. He had made good time the entire way so far and now within thirty miles of his destination, he was trapped behind a long line of traffic snaking up a mountain side behind some slow moving RV. He imagined it was some old gray haired bespectacled geezer who couldn’t see over the dashboard. Why in the world, would someone be driving that thing out in this rain at this time of night? Damn fool he thought, anybody driving one of those things out to be drug out and shot.

Doug’s throat felt like it was on fire and his head felt like a ticking time bomb. He had been on a continuous drip of cold medicine since he left and though it kept his nose from running, it really didn’t do much for the other symptoms. He felt lethargic and mentally slow but figured he still had enough mental resources left to make it to the address where he was supposed to pick up the car. It was only thirty miles away on Fire Tower Road or as the seller had said, ‘Far Tar Road.’ Sometimes these hicks just had too much of an accent to be smart. Nobody every heard of a brain surgeon with a thick southern accent and probably for good reason too.

Up ahead, the RV pulled off the road at a roadside overlook of the valley below and the traffic finally started picking up speed. Doug rolled down his window and gave the RV driver a show of his thoughts by flipping him the bird as he drove by. “God damn bastard, it’s about time,” he muttered and rolled the window back up. The drivers of the vehicles up ahead must have been having much the same feelings because he was able to accelerate to about sixty-five and keep pace with the string of traffic. With the rain and the spray kicked up by the vehicles up front, he couldn’t see anything but the taillights of the two vehicles in front of him. It didn’t really matter, he just kept his eyes glued on their lights and aimed his truck to follow in the path that they cut through the rainy night. The line of cars just played follow-the-leader and hoped that the car out in front of the line wouldn’t drive off the road lest they all follow it right off the mountain. His grandfather used to having a saying about the blind leading the blind and Doug thought it fit the current situation to a tee.

Walking Away - Chapter 10: Donald and Lydia

The rain started slapping harder at the windshield and the wipers picked up time trying to keep up. Donald stared intently through the windshield trying to see the road through the rain and the glare of the television blaring away behind him.

“Darn it Lydia, can’t you turn that thing off for a while?”

The only response was in the volume of the television as it was increased and the silence between them thickened. Lydia had wanted to spend the night in Harrison at the Best Western but he was in a hurry to get south and to warmer weather. Probably more importantly, she had wanted to watch her ‘program,’ which was on right now but winter was approaching fast and these days that really made his joints ache. Donald didn’t see the point in paying for a motel room when they owned a luxury thirty-two foot long recreational vehicle complete with slide outs, kitchenette, shower and bed. They could pull over anywhere and camp in comfort so he had insisted. Now halfway up the mountainside, groaning along in low gear, on twisting rain slick road with more rain obscuring his vision, he wished he had listened to his wife.

Donald was a retired geologist who had spent a short but profitable career working for Shell flying around the world prospecting for oil. He had ‘retired’ from that career at the age of thirty-six and had moved to Arkansas to get away from it all. Instead, he had gotten into the real-estate business and became quite wealthy over the next decade but he couldn’t quit just quit working cold turkey. At fifty, he had come close to ‘retiring’ for the second time but that was when the vacation real-estate boom of the 90’s hit and people were literally throwing money at him for ridiculously small acreages in their attempt to get away from it all too.

Four years ago, he had decided that his ‘getting away from it all’ world was too crowded and he officially retired, trading in his house and land for a fifty-four foot sailboat, which he had built himself and was now anchored in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas, a dream house in the northern deserts of Arizona, which he also designed and built, and this thirty-two foot luxury RV, which he had bought, to shuttle between those places, friends and family.

They were heading south after having spent the summer visiting friends and doctor, heading for their boat for a month of sailing before heading back home to Arizona for the winter. Both of them were sixty-five and in fairly good health. Lydia had a knee joint replaced with a mechanical one in June and was almost fully recovered. The pain that she had been living with for several years was now replaced with a newfound mobility. He had his wrist muscles ‘scoped out’ to ease his carpal tunnel syndrome from years of playing tennis and his eyesight was slowly degenerating with age but nothing that a new prescription hadn’t cured.

Donald pulled over at a roadside overlook to let a long stream of traffic that had built up behind him go by. He knew from his years in real estate in this area, that this would be his last chance to let traffic buy until the town of Ponca twenty miles down the road. On a night like this, tempers would flare from angry people stuck behind his RV and couldn’t pass because of the curvy roads and the rain.

He glanced in the mirror at his wife’s outline from the glow of the television. He loved his wife and that just wasn’t going to change despite the cold treatment he was now receiving. He knew that in a half hour when her program ended she would start to warm up again and in an hour be back to normal. Such was the knowledge from forty years of marriage. He checked the side mirrors to ensure the traffic had all gotten passed, shifted into gear, and eased the RV back onto the road. The rain was picking up and his windshield wipers were already on their fastest speed. Yes sir, a Best Western sounded pretty good right now.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 9: Arrival

Jack eased the car off the road and down into the woods. If anyone had seen him it would have looked like he was heading off into the woods but behind the tall weeds edging the road, there was actually a graveled driveway that curled around through the trees to a small cabin. His parents owned this cabin and came down several times during the year but during harvest season in the fall, the lawn typically got neglected. The weeds out near the road, which received more sunlight, grew tall and blocked the driveway but further in under the canopy of trees, it was mostly fallen leaves and short patches of grass. This suited Jack fine because it was like having a natural fence to shield you from snoopy neighbors.

He let himself into the cabin and found the proper topography map, which he unfolded on the kitchen table and studied by the light of his flashlight. The breakers had been thrown and he wasn’t planning on staying long enough to make it worth the bother of turning the correct one on and then off again. He circled a location on the map and wrote a short note in the margin so that his parents could look him up should they come down here. Leaving the map unfolded on the table, he stepped back outside, locking the door behind him.

As he unloaded his backpack out of the car and started packing his first load, a light rain started falling. Normally he would have gotten out his raincoat but he knew that it would be too hot wearing that with all the exertion that he would be putting forth this evening. He looked up into the sky but it was too dark to make out any clouds. A low rumble off to the west told him that the rain might get a little heavier before the night was through.

Cinching the straps around his waist and shoulders, Jack set off back up the driveway and down the road he had just driven in on. About one hundred yards later at an intersection with another road, there was a small gravel parking lot off in the trees and a trail heading to the Buffalo River four miles and 2500 vertical feet down. He hiked down this trail a ways before turning off onto another slightly used trail which he followed until it reached a natural mountain bench. He stepped off the trail where the bench crossed a small crease that only flowed water after a heavy rain and followed it down the steep mountainside.

After an hour of slipping and sliding all over the leaf-covered rocks embedded in the mountainside, Jack finally reached the object of his destination. It was a large overhang of limestone carved thousands of years ago by the stream he had followed down the mountainside. The stream had continued its gradual erosion process after the overhang and now rested another one hundred feet down a shallow slope below him. If he followed the stream downhill another quarter mile, he would come to the Buffalo River which flowed most of the year and retained pools of water from which to obtain drinking water. In the driest years when the Buffalo wasn’t flowing, there were always deep pools of water left behind.

Jack had explored this overhanging shelf of rock about five years ago while bushwhacking through the area. It ran about thirty feet back into the mountainside and contained several smaller shelves of rock further inside. There were also a dozen or so table sized rocks scattered about the entrance and a nice stand of beech, oak, sweet gum and maple trees between it and the river which shielded it from view most of the year. This was going to be his base camp once he had packed the remainder of his gear down the mountain side but with the rain picking up, he didn’t think it would be tonight. As he made his way back up the mountain side towards his car, he decided that tonight he would just trundle the remainder of his gear down over the bench and far enough down the mountainside to be out of sight from the trail. Tomorrow when it wasn’t raining and he had more light, he would come back for the rest. By this time tomorrow, he would be living the good life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 8: Saying Goodbye

Jack finished the last bite of cheeseburger and washed it down with the last swallow of Pepsi. This was going to be his last supper, not cooked over a campfire anyway, in awhile and he had wanted a big old greasy cheeseburger and fries. He had found a small café on the north side of Harrison, Arkansas that looked like a good candidate and had stopped. Now that he was finished, he was going to get the last supplies before he headed up into the mountain on the south side of town and drove the last forty miles to where he was going to leave his car and pack his gear into the wilderness.

It was eight in the evening so there wasn’t going to be much open now besides Wal-Mart and the local grocery store, but he figured they would do. He stocked up on flour, sugar and other non-perishable foods first and drove down the roads towards Wal-Mart. It really chapped him that he was going to have to spend money at Wal-Mart whom he hated with a passion but he really didn’t have a choice. Where else was he going to get hunting supplies at this time of night?

Wal-Mart was pure evil in Jack’s opinion and the reason society seemed to be decaying at the seams. When they came into a town, or rather right on the outskirts, they would throw up a huge building with a concrete sea of a parking lot and open their doors twenty-four seven. The local mom and pops would compete for a while but they all eventually met their demise and moved on to a small town or just gave up completely. Meanwhile, other businesses that weren’t in direct competition with Wal-Mart such as your strip malls, fast food joints, movie theaters, banks, etc would move in the vicinity to capitalize on the increase of traffic and people. Behind them on the main streets of these towns, quality businesses were replaced with pawnshops and adult bookstores as the buildings slowly decayed and eventually became abandoned, gang hangouts or crack houses. What was more disturbing to Jack was the cycle was beginning all over again with the Super Wal-Marts. Because the land around them on what had been the outskirts of town had been built up and Wal-Mart’ized over the years, they have to build the bigger stores on land further out of town and once again, the same businesses, like lemmings, followed shortly after.

Instead of the days of his youth when you could go buy a pound of nails or some laundry detergent and talk to the cashier for five minutes about the upcoming basketball game, you got some local pimply teenager working for minimum wage who was more interested in the next kegger than giving you service with a smile. At the bigger Super Wal-Marts, even the pimply teenagers were being phased out over self checkout machines which didn’t give you any chance to talk to someone and made you bag your own merchandise. Instead of running into a neighbor at your neighborhood store, you milled around among the hordes of people all clustered at Wal-Mart with more chance of winning the lottery than meeting someone you know. If he were a terrorist, Jack thought he could do more damage bombing a Super Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon than trying to strike heavily guarded government buildings. As he walked in through the doors and accepted a cart pushed in his general direction by a disgruntled looking old man who had probably squandered his retirement money at the casino, Jack hoped that there weren’t any terrorists thinking the same thoughts at this Wal-Mart for the next hour or so.

An hour later, Jack stuffed the last of his purchases into his already overloaded car, and shoved the cart back towards the general vicinity of the cart coral. He walked back to his car, backed up and started driving across the acres of concrete towards the outlet road that would lead him back to the highway but stopped and pulled into a parking spot instead. Had it been a Saturday afternoon, he probably wouldn’t have found a space that close but as it was, there wasn’t a car within thirty slots of him. Jack got out and looked back at the entrance of Wal-Mart. He remembered a line from an old movie with Harrison Ford called Mosquito Coast, modified it to suit the situation and yelled as loud as he could, “GOODBYE WAL-MART, AND HAVE A NICE DAY!”

Walking Away - Chapter 7: Afternoon Breaks

When Doug opened his eyes, he was beset by a few seconds of confusion as to why there was so much light. He thought that he must have left the overhead light on but this light was way to soft when compared to the harsher glow of a light bulb. Then it hit him.

“Shit!”

He looked over towards the alarm clock and the bedroom around him swam a little before his eyes could regain control and focus. Four o-clock.

“Shit!”

He scrambled out of bed and into the bathroom where he emptied his much too full bladder and grabbed a bottle of aspirin, dry swallowing several. He kept the bottle because he thought he might need some more to battle his hangover on the way down to Arkansas. He was already supposed to be there and he was just getting out of bed.

Fifteen minutes later, Doug was dressed and had packed a small duffle with another coat, maps, and a notebook with the required information for picking up the car. As he went through the kitchen, he stopped at the refrigerator to grab a ring of deer summer sausage, some cheese and two cans of beer. Everyone knows that the best way to fight a hangover is to start drinking again. Doug didn’t want to face the next fourteen hours with his head feeling like it was going to split.

Tossing the duffel into the pickup, he cranked the motor to life and drove behind the house where his trailer was parked. Twenty minutes later after changing a flat trailer tire with his one and only spare, he was hooked on and ready to go. He wasn’t setting any speed records for getting started this morning, or should he say this afternoon.

As he pulled out onto the highway, he popped the top on the beer and took a swig to lubricate his dry throat. He fumbled around in the duffel bag feeling for the bottle of aspirin when the wheels dropped off the edge of the pavement and the soft shoulder started pulling him towards the ditch.

“Shit!”

He jerked the wheel to the left, over correcting and swinging into the on coming lane of traffic causing an oncoming motorist to swerve and hit their horn. Still holding the can of beer in his left hand, Doug stuck his arm out the window and attempted to give the car the finger but wasn’t too successful. Putting the beer between his legs, he switched driving hands to his left and again tried finding the aspirin, this time with success. He fished out two more tablets and washed them down with another swig of beer.

Tossing the bottle back in the duffle, he fished around and this time came up with his cell phone almost immediately. He dug out the little notebook in his front shirt pocket and found the correct number, which he dialed. He only got an answering machine for which, he was very grateful, and left a lame excuse of why he was running so late and that he should be down there by eleven in the evening, sooner if he could make up some time. Doug tossed the phone up on the dash and looked down at the speedometer, which was only registering sixty-five miles and hour.

“Shit!”

He punched the gas and the truck accelerated. He checked to make sure his fuzz buster was on because he didn’t need to be pulled over for speeding. He wasn’t concerned with the fine because he didn’t even have a license, they weren’t garnishing his disability check just yet and this job was done on a cash only basis. No, Doug didn’t want to get pulled over for speeding just for the fact it would cost him another fifteen minutes when he was already half a day behind. He glanced down again at the speedometer which said he was doing eight-five and he believed it by the way the truck was beginning to shake and rattle. Now this mother humper’s flying he thought as he crossed over the state line into Missouri.

Monday, November 8, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 6: Morning Breaks

The sun was a long time in rising from behind the bluff but its presence had been known for hours. The sky lightened and the traffic on the road below picked up as the commuters made their way into work. For now it was going to be a clear and warm but clouds were on the western horizon.

A blanket of warmth replaced morning chills, the sun shining on Jack’s back as he sat looking over the river valley to the west and contemplating what he wanted to do now that he was free. He figured he would be in Harrison, Arkansas a little after noon to buy enough supplies to last him for three or four weeks and another hour to the trailhead where he planned to shuttle his supplies into Buffalo River National Park and lose him self for a while. He figured it would be well into the wee hours of tomorrow morning before he got everything down but he had as long as he wanted to sleep in so it really didn’t matter.

Jack had been coming to the park for as long as he could remember and it was a perfect place to get lost. The park itself was 100,000+ acres that encompassed 130 miles of the Buffalo River but with surrounding land also owned by the government, that figure probably doubles or triples. The river etches its way through the Boston Mountains made of limestone and created numerous overhanging bluffs and caves used by the Indians and early settlers. Jack figured that one of these bluffs would serve his purposes too.

Although, he kept seeing more people every time he went there on a vacation, most of the people stayed on the trails and the river. Off the beaten path, he never had seen anyone but if he did, most likely they would be from out of town and not likely to report him. Even if they did, the worst case was some park ranger coming by to tell him to pack up and leave. There were hundreds if not thousands of other shelters scattered around the park, so moving to a new location wouldn’t be much of a problem.

A car door slammed in the distance up the hill in the vicinity of his car and after a couple minutes, footsteps approached through the brush. A police officer emerged from behind some scrubby red cedar trees and said howdy to Jack who politely shook his hand. The officer wasn’t one for words and merely told Jack to pack up and go. The irony of the whole thing was not lost on Jack as he packed up his gear and walked back to his car now flanked by a squad car. He put his gear in the trunk, started up the car and drove away as the officer leaned against his own car and watched.

A vehicle was always a calling card of someone’s presence nearby and thankfully Jack had a solution for it once he had reached his destination. His parents owned a small cabin and land just an eighth mile up the road from the trailhead where he was planning to enter the park. After he had shuttled all his gear to his new ‘home,’ he would just park it front of the cabin where nobody would question its presence. It also left him with a way to go for more supplies when the time came. Jack reached the highway again and turned toward the city. As he merged into the traffic, he was just another commuter heading towards work to the casual observer driving by. But if they looked close, they would have seen the gleam in the eye of someone who was truly free.

Walking Away - Chapter 5: Under the Stars

Jack was nearing Jefferson City and his mind and body were shot. The adrenaline surge from the afternoon had passed and seemed to take any remaining energy that he had. His eyes felt like led weights and he knew he was going to have to stop. He pulled off onto a side road that headed up out of the river bottom into the nearby bluffs. Two miles up the road; he came to a pull off for a scenic overlook and pulled into the parking area. He cut the engine and got out of the car, hearing only the engine clicks and pops as it cooled down. Jack pulled the trunk latch and got out of the car stretching his cramped up legs. Since stopping at his parent’s mailbox to deliver his note, he had only stopped once for gas.

He had driven out of the rain just south of Moberly, Missouri and the overcast skies had cleared for now. It still felt like more rain was possible but he thought it would hold off until morning and he was willing to chance it so that he didn’t have to sleep in the car. For now, the stars were out in full force and with a half full moon; there was plenty of light to see by as he walked around to the trunk. He made a sandwich, feeling the lunchmeat carefully and picking out a few pieces of shot. He also grabbed a soda, small tarp and sleeping bag before stepping over the safety railing and picking his was down the steep slope a short distance until he came to a small level shelf. He laid down the tarp, unrolled the sleeping bag and sat down to eat a picnic supper.

From his vantage point, he had a clear view of the lights of Jefferson City off in the distance and he had to admit there was a certain kind of beauty to it. But once inside that zone of lights, the beauty always faded away and you were left with fields of concrete and foul smelling air. He needed to get away from that for a while.

Jack had been an engineer for seven years and it was enough to know he wanted something better in life. He was a good engineer and certainly enjoyed the process but he disliked dealing with the same bureaucratic crap day after day. The whole process seemed to be blind and he wanted a job where he could see for a change.

Being laid off from his job was a sign from God to re-evaluate his life and career. He had a good chunk of money saved up that should last him a few years where he was going. He was going to find himself someplace removed from society and for the first month or so, contemplate nothing. He was just going to detoxify his system of all of society’s pollution, no news, no phone, no communication, no nothing. He was quitting cold turkey. After that, he would re-evaluate his life and career until he came to some solid conclusion and then he would re-enter society to live out the remainder of his days in peace.

He finished eating his make shift supper and crawled into his sleeping bag. It was cool but he could sense that it was slowly getting warmer. A warm front was moving through the area so he should stay plenty warm tonight. The clean air already seemed to be detoxifying his system and he felt much more calm and relaxed. He closed his eyes and listened to the night sounds and the passing traffic in the valley far below.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 4: Twelve Can O'clock

Doug estimated that it was about twelve can o’clock, which meant that he had finished his twelfth can of beer. The actual time wasn’t midnight but only about seven and with his head cold, the late fall early darkness and the still falling rain, it felt much later than that. They had finally called in their dogs that hadn’t been able to chase one coyote near enough for them to shoot without accidentally plugging one of the dogs instead. He wasn’t too broken up about it because he really didn’t want to have to get out into the damn rain anymore than he had too. The truck cab was warm and they still had a few cold beers left though they were getting dangerously low.

He pulled into the truck stop to drop off his comrade in arms and then make a break for home and bed. He wanted to get a decent nights sleep before his hot shot run tomorrow, which he figured to start about three in the morning so that he could get back home in decent time. He pulled up next to his buddy’s truck and put it in park, waiting for the question that inevitably was going to be asked.

“It’s too early to go home yet Doug, so what say we go tip back a few more brews at your place? I reckon the old ball and chain hasn’t got the brats to bed yet.”

There wasn’t a bar in this shit hole of a town and so Doug’s friends had turned his house into their own private tavern of sorts since his wife had left him. Doug enjoyed the company and his friends usually left more than enough money to cover the beer so it didn’t cost him a dime. It also had the advantage of him not having to drive home afterwards especially since he hadn’t had a driver’s license in over ten years. Too many DUI’s had robbed him of that privilege though it really didn’t affect him since he continued to drive anyway. But it was still nice to be able to get pissing drunk in your own home in the company of friends.

His sinuses were stuffed up and his head felt like it might split open like a ripe melon if he touched it to hard. But he had some extra strength cold and sinus medicine, the kind that he now had to sign to get thanks to the meth-heads, at home in the medicine cabinet, and he figured that he could still take some of that and get a few quality hours of sleep after some more quality time drinking with his buddies.

“What the fuck,” Doug said, “come on over. I ain’t got nothin’ better to do.”

Five hours later at midnight, and way past twenty-four can o’clock or at least by his estimation, Doug staggered into the bathroom after the last person had finally left. He voided his bladder one last time to avoid pissing himself in bed and popped three of the cold and sinus capsules. The box said to only take one every twelve hours but he felt that desperate situations required desperate measures. His head was about to blow right off his fucking neck and he only had three hours before he needed to leave. He washed them down with a double swig of Nyquil hoping that the extra codeine would send him directly into la la land. He staggered into the bedroom and started to sit down on the edge of the bed so that he could set the alarm clock but his legs gave out and he fell backwards into bed instead. He made a feeble attempt to sit up but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. His last conscious thought before he passed out with his legs still hanging off the side of the bed, was that he could probably make up any time he overslept tomorrow on the road. He would make that mother humper fly.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 3: Making a Break For It

Jack had gotten packed for the most part. Where he was going he didn’t want a lot of things and in case the neighbors had called the police, he wanted to be gone to avoid any questions. He just wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. He owned a small Honda Civic which kind of limited what he could take but he had thrown in his backpack and camping gear along with a duffel of clothes and a ice chest of some lunch meat, cheese, bread and the few cans of soda that has survived the first shot through the refrigerator door. As it was, he was still going to have to pick some shot out of the lunchmeat.

He went back into the house to take care of some business before leaving but forgot about having destroyed both toilets. So he squatted down in the middle of the living room instead among the broken stereo and television pieces and took a crap. Having not thought to grab a roll of toilet paper he used the cushion off the nearby couch instead. When he was done, he wrote two quick notes, one that said, “Keep my deposit,” which he placed it on the floor beside his business and the other he folded up a stuck in his back pocket for later. “Hope you have a nice day,” he said and strode out to the car and started it up.

When the garage door was open he backed the car out looking but seeing no signs of activity or cop cars waiting. He rolled down the window and tossed the apartment keys and garage door opener outside onto the driveway and drove off. Five minutes later he was south of town heading towards his parents farm.

He wasn’t going to stop because he knew they would just try and discourage him but he loved his folks and wanted to at least leave a note so that they wouldn’t worry. They were done with harvest and might not be home but he wasn’t going to take any chances. He was going to put the note from his pocket into the mailbox at the end of the driveway and leave it at that. He had basically written that he needed some time off and that he would call back once in awhile to check in and see how things were doing. Thank God for long driveways.

As he drove, Jack’s mind returned back to the events of the day. He had been an engineer working for a large company that made computer components to the tune of fifteen million or so a week during the good times. But since Bush had taken office, things had gone to pieces and he like millions of others was now among the ranks of the unemployed. That was part of it.

Last year, another manager within the company had asked Jack to do something that violated his professional ethics and he had refused. Jack’s manager had gone to bat for him and in the end, the other manager went away empty handed. Two months ago, Jack’s manager had gotten promoted within the company and the other manager had then become Jack’s new manager. Rumors had been flying through the office that another round of layoffs would be happening soon which would make it the sixth go-round in as many years. So when his new manager had greeted Jack with the words “can you come to my office so we can talk,” as he had walked to his desk this morning, he wasn’t exactly surprised.

She handed him papers to sign and reminded him of his confidentiality agreements. They were really sorry and were going to give him five weeks of severance pay if he would just sign this form agreeing not to sue. He had signed the paper and said he understood though it wasn’t the bullshit one she was trying to feed him. She was just getting even and that was the way the world went ‘round.

Jack’s manager had escorted him back to his desk to collect his personals, which he put in two boxes that had been waiting there. He gave her the heavy one and carried the other one out of the building with her following him all the way to his car. She had given him a ‘no hard friends’ handshake before going back into the building. He flipper her the bird, loaded the boxes and drove back home via the bar.

It has only been ten o’clock and Jack wasn’t really a drinker but he felt as if he needed one then. A few other co-workers had shown up a little later, also laid off, and joined Jack at the bar. They had laughed it up until three in the afternoon telling each other that they were the lucky ones and those still back at work and employed got the long end of the stick. But now Jack wasn’t so sure. He was pissed. How could they lay him off when he was the last of the machine design engineers? Of the five engineers that he had started with, two had left for other companies and two had gotten laid off in previous go-rounds. He was the last one left and had thought they couldn’t lay him off even if the manager had wanted revenge. Evidently she had been able to blow smoke up someone’s ass because here he was without a job.

It was only on his was home from the bar that he had decided to unplug himself for society’s circuit of life, to take himself out of the loop for a while. He knew a great place in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas where he could camp out for awhile without being bothered. No bills to pay, no job to worry about, just him and millions of acres of mountains, streams and trees to decompress and live truly free for awhile. He didn’t know for how long nor did he even want to think about it, which is why he had left what remained of his worldly possessions back in the apartment with the doors wide open and the keys in the driveway. Everyone could help themselves but nobody probably would. Iowa was just too polite and some neighbor would probably close all the doors and put a note on the door saying they hoped I didn’t mind that they took the liberty of closing my doors. That is if they didn’t noticed or smelled a house full of shot up electronics and slowly flooding carpet.

As he drove south along the rural blacktop it began to rain so Jack turned on the windshield wipers and turned on the radio. He pushed his mind into thinking about where he would spend the night if it continued to rain. Sleeping in a small car at six foot two inches wasn’t something to which he looked forward.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 2: Coyote Hunt

Doug didn’t need this shit. He was on full time disability but the payments just weren’t enough sometimes so he moonlighted as a hotshot. When someone bought a vehicle across the country and needed it brought back in a hurry, he would drive straight through to bring it back. This was called making a hotshot run. He had just gotten back from a run to San Diego only six hours before and now someone was on the phone wanting him to make another run to a hick town in the hills of northwest Arkansas.

Doug had a whopper of a cold coming on that he had apparently caught somewhere along the way from his last trip. It was a cold and rainy fall here in Iowa and he just hadn’t wanted to make a sixteen-hour run to anywhere but he couldn’t just turn down business so he had quoted double the normal price and bastard had agreed. He didn’t need this shit but he was going to have to do it like it or not. He jotted down the details and hung up the phone.

He thought about calling up his buddies and calling the coyote hunting off for the afternoon but decided a little beer with the boys might ward off the head cold. He grabbed a beer for the road from the fridge and walked out to his truck. Damn he was proud of that truck. He had bought salvage rights to it from an insurance outfit and had fixed it up with his disability checks. He had jacked it up and put a killer set of knobbies on it along with a row of KC spotlights and a custom paint job. A gun rack and three guns filled the rear window along with two large decals of the Dixie flag and an “I’m a BUSHman” decal. After all, aren’t all gun loving individuals republicans? He fired the mother up and headed out to the truck stop.

Five years had passed since Doug had hurt his back at his factory job. He had screwed it up but it had eventually gotten to the point it hardly slowed him down at all. He felt that he had been screwed over all his life and finally he had a chance to screw the man so he had gotten full time disability. The doctor who swung by this small town once a week was a drug addict to pain pills so they had made an arrangement. The doctor kept prescribing them to Doug along with vouching for his disability and all Doug had to do was forget to take his pain pills when he left the office. The doctor was happy and Doug got to follow his two passions of beer and hunting, in that order.

He and his buddies like to hunt coyotes mostly because it gave them an excuse to get away from the nagging wife and screaming kids for a while. Doug’s wife had left him several years ago mercifully taking the kids, so he just like to get out of the house when his buddies got off of their day jobs. They would go out south of town where nothing but largely unused gravel and dirt roads stretched from here to the Missouri line. They would turn their dogs loose and drive around in the four-wheel drive trucks drinking beer and shooting the breeze. The dogs would eventually scare up a coyote and run them until eventually they crossed a road or an open field right next to the road. At that point, Doug or one of his buddies would stop the truck, remove the loaded rifle from the rack in the window (where it was nice and handy), climb into the bed and blow the vermin’s brains out. If it was a good one they could get $20 for it but these days, $5 to $10 was about the norm and all proceeds were split four ways in beer.

Doug wheeled into the truck stop parking lot where his buddies were waiting. One hopped into his truck since he had the dogs and kennels in the back and the other two went in another truck similarly equipped with kennels, dogs, beer and guns. They drove south of town along the old fairgrounds road, which was mostly a two-track dirt road these days. Five minutes later, they pulled into a field entrance owned by a farmer who lived a couple miles away as the crow flies. The farmer had run Doug off his land a few times for hunting illegally but this was a Thursday afternoon and all the fieldwork was done for the season. The chances and the farmer driving by were slim and besides, Doug didn’t give a flying rip if he did because there was nothing the farmer could do besides call a game warden. Doug never trespassed and he was just trying to retrieve his dogs, which had run over into the field despite his efforts to call them back. At least that is what he told the warden and their wasn’t much anybody could do. Screw the farmer.

Doug grabbed a pair of wire cutters from the truck to snip a few strands of the fence and then turned the dogs loose into the farmer’s field. They tore off into the cold and rainy afternoon and Doug decided he needed to take a piss. He unzipped and let loose right on the NO TRESPASSING sign nailed to the wooden gate. How’s that for an insult you bastard. He returned to the warmth of the truck where he turned on the CB and radioed the other truck that the dogs were loose. He tossed his empty beer can out the window and grabbed a fresh one from the ice chest behind the seat. His throat was starting to itch and his nose was beginning to run. Damn this cold!

Monday, November 1, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 1: Taking Care of Business

The garage door hummed and started rising up as Jack sat in his car waiting impatiently. As soon it cleared the roof of the car, he released the clutch and drove it inside, pressing the button to lower the garage door once again. He didn’t want to disturb the neighbors in the neighboring apartment.

As Jack emerged from the car, he realized that his plastic insulated lunch bag was still in his hand so he threw it towards the far corner of the garage among a pile of odds and ends. I won’t need that anymore, he thought to himself, as he searched the shelving along the left side of the garage. On the upper shelf he spied what he wanted and grabbed the camouflage covered gun case, complete with a twelve gauge shotgun he had bought a couple years ago on a whim and had only used a few times. He unzipped the case, removed the shotgun and threw the case in the general vicinity of the lunch bag. Won’t need that either he smiled.

Again he scanned the shelves and after a little searching found the shells for the gun. All he had was birdshot used for two geese hunting trips he had done with his friend Scott the last two years. They weren’t slugs but he thought the shells would serve the purpose anyway. He loaded the first one and pumped it into the chamber before quickly loading the rest into the magazine. He set the remainder of the box of shells on the front of the car hood because he might need some more.

Jack opened the door to the house and started walking in but stopped and walked back into the garage. He looked on the woodworking bench and found a pair of earmuffs, which he put on and walked back into the house. It might get kind of loud and he didn’t want to screw up his hearing.

He stopped five feet inside the door and turned around facing the desk sitting just to the right of the door. Sitting on top of his desk was his target, actually both of them and he raised the shotgun up into position. Deciding he was a little too close he backed up a couple paced until he bumped into the entertainment center. Damned small apartments he thought, can’t even allow my victim a sporting chance. Again, he raised the gun to shoulder level, pushed in the safety and squeezed the trigger.

BLAM!

The computer monitor imploded in a hail of flying glass, the flat screen portion of it separating from the plastic stand and coming to rest leaning against the wall. The burnt sulfur from the gunpowder filled the air but nothing was coming from the wreckage of the computer screen, not even a spark. Damn, Jack thought, that wasn’t very exciting as he re-leveled the gun and pulled the trigger again.

BLAM!

This time the computer tower jumped up in a shower of plastic and bits of metal.

BLAM!

It jumped a second time spraying more bits of plastic and actually falling off the desk onto the floor where it sparked once and began to emit an acrid smell of burning plastic. That one made Jack feel a lot better. “That’s all I have to say about the computer industry, “ Jack said aloud as he pumped another shell in the chamber and looked around for another target.

This time he only brought the gun waist high like a wild west quick shot and pulled the trigger.

BLAM!

The twenty-five inch television screen imploded and this time a waft of smoke emerged from the wreckage.

BLAM! BLAM!

He fired his last two shots into the left half of the entertainment center where the stereo components resided. The glass door shattered along with the receiver and the other glass door broke in half, the top half hanging on by the upper hinge, behind which lay the remains of the CD player. A few sparks popped and more burning plastic filled the air but no flames.

Jack was starting to feel the adrenalin from his racing heart kick in giving him a euphoric high. Damn this is fun he thought. I should have done this a long time ago. He raised his right leg and kicked out at the remains of the stereo sending them flying back against the wall with a very satisfying crunch. He returned to the garage to reload before heading into the kitchen.

Another six rounds later and the stove, microwave and refrigerator had been put out of their misery. The refrigerator was bleeding from the two wounds in the back. One shot had been pumped into the front door before Jack realized that the soft belly of a refrigerator was in the back. So he had pulled it from the wall and dispatched it with two more shots. Now it was silent. Jack went back to the garage and grabbed the last four shells in the box, which he fed into the shotgun. It should be enough to finish the job. He walked back inside, crossed the living room and took one step out onto the patio. He aimed and fired; taking out the pole light that the apartment complex owners had installed two months before. He had complained that the light had kept him up but they had just smiled, nodded and ignored him. The lamp cover and bulb exploded only leaving behind a stump.

He walked back inside the house and down the hall to the bedroom where he sent the alarm clock to radio heaven. He made one trip into each of the two bathrooms and blew up the toilets, not because he had anything against them but because he had two shots left and they seemed like the coolest thing to shoot. They didn’t disappoint him as they shattered into pieces, bleeding water from their still open fill lines. Jack didn’t bother to shut them off. He leaned the empty gun in the corner, walked back into the bedroom and began to pack.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Hello Jimmy?

Growing up in first grade kids can be so cruel
And it is not so much the exception as it was the rule
And so we never let poor Jimmy play in any of our games
Instead we all teased him hurting him with our names
Hello Jimmy what became of you?

His hands were always bleeding from biting them with his teeth
It's the only thing he knew to do whenever he was teased
We never threw sticks or stones or broke any of his bones
But what we did was worse how could we have known
Hello Jimmy what became of you

Running laughing playing games making fun of Jim
Til one day he caught a boy and beat the crap out of him
They came and took poor Jimmy we never saw him again
We were only hurting him deeper instead of being a friend
Hello Jimmy what became of you

So please have some compassion if you see someone like Jim
Instead of making fun of them try and be a friend
Now I live with my consious of what I did to Jim
Knowing one day when I die I'll have to explain to Him
I'm sorry Jimmy for what I did to you

An Open Letter To Jimmy

Have you ever done something of which you are not proud? Have you ever done something of which the memory comes back to haunt you every now and then at seemingly random times? I was reading a blog someone wrote about driving by a little black boy waiting for the school bus and wondering what his story was when that memory came back again to haunt me. This time I am writing it down in hopes of healing old wounds.

I was seven years old and had to go to a daycare every afternoon after school until my mom got off from work and could take me home. During the warmer days, we used to spend all our time on the grassy playground running around being kids. We had paper airplane flying contests, played tag and soccer, and just did what kids do best. We played nicely together most of the time but once in awhile, things would turn uglier and switch to the game of teasing 'Jimmy.'

Jimmy was mentally retarded and when he was under stress, he would bite the back of his own hand, at times causing it to bleed. I can remember that ugly sore on the back of his hand that always seemed infected due to the constant reopening of the wound. Teachers always admonished us kids to not tease Jimmy in hopes that the wound would eventually heal but being kids the fascination of someone inflicting pain upon themselves out weighed any moral sense that we might have had.

One afternoon while out on the playground at the daycare center, we decided to go tease Jimmy. We chased after that poor kid calling him names while he ran away biting the back of his hand until it started to bleed. I don't remember how long we did that for but eventually he got tired and we had him cornered between two pieces of playground equipment. He turned around, dropped his hand from his bloody mouth, and grabbed the first kid he could. Jimmy proceeded to tear the shirt off that poor helpless kids and beat him into a bloody pulp as the rest of us stood there horrified. As Jimmy punched the kid over and over, he was sobbing in anguish and that is what really haunts me. Here was a kid who didn't want to be doing what he was doing but had no choice and finally had to stand up for himself in the only way he knew how. An adult finally pulled Jimmy off the hapless kid and led him into the school while the other kid, who didn't have any serious wounds, was led crying into the school for antiseptic and bandages. The rest of us remained on the playground shell shocked and this is where my memory ends.

We never saw Jimmy again but if we had, I don't think anyone would have teased him anymore. I think the incident, from that moment on, gave me a moral lesson that I never have forgotten to this day; don't pick on those you feel are beneath you because one day, they may rise up over you. In later years, I found myself on the other side of the 'being picked on' coin and I now feel it was God's way of balancing out the damage that I may have done to Jimmy with my words. I was called many names which made me teary eyed and wanting to rise up against those doing the picking but I never did. I bore the burden that had been placed upon me and went through life the best I could. All through grade school and junior high, I served my time for that one stupid act so many years ago and I still feel as if I got off light and haven't yet fully served my sentence.

What ever became of Jimmy? I wonder this every time that memory comes back to haunt me. I wish I knew but I don't. I wish I could find him somehow but the daycare center is long gone by now and I don't even know if Jimmy was his name. It is just a name that I felt fit when I wrote a poem about the situation some four years ago. (If I can find it, I'll post it on here later.) All I can say is, "Jimmy, if you are out there, I am truly sorry for what I did and I want you to know that because of you, I learned a powerful lesson that day. If I ever find you someday, I will be at your service until you feel that I have finished my sentence."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

'Lego' My Legos

Legos are the best toy money can buy and are largely responsible for me being an engineer today, maybe even for my marriage. I had me first real Lego experience when I was seven. By real I mean the tiny ones with hundreds of different shape and not the common large brick Legos. I was at a baby sitters house after school and her son (who was away at the time) had an unopened box of Space Legos sitting on a table. I opened the box and put the space fighter craft together with immense satisfaction. That is until the baby sitters son came home and saw what I had done. I don't remember what happened after that but I was hooked.

I immediately started begging my parents and all my gift giving relatives for Space Legos and soon they started pouring in for my birthdays, my brother's birthday and also Christmas. By the time our childhood was gone, we had two large suitcases full of probably 50 or 60 pounds of Legos. We would always build up the Legos into the required vehicle, station, etc. directed by the instructions but they would last for about a day before they were disassembled and added back into the general pile. It was then that our imaginations would kick in and the influence began for my career in engineering.

We'd build all kinds of things but the favorite of my brother and I was to build cars. We had a set of Lego gears and a motor with remote control pack. We would build a car and hold timed drag races across the living room. It is then that I learned the concepts of gearing rations, torque and power. This was further ingrained upon my brain when we build vehicles for 'pushing wars' in which torque was more desirable than speed. Strength was always a factor in my designs during these contests because the last thing you wanted was a car that fell apart allowing the other person to drive all over you.

Creativity was a huge part of having Legos. Like a blank piece of canvas to an artist, a pile of Legos in the middle of the living room floor just cried out for me to build something. As my parents can attest, I spent hours upon hours stirring the pile back and forth looking for that illusive small piece that I just had to have for my latest creation. The sky was the limit with our creations and we did them all. I have heard that some companies have a set of Legos for their designers to create models of their designs. I haven't found a company willing to pay me to play with Legos yet but if one of them is reading this now, I AM YOUR MAN.

Legos are at least partially responsible for my marriage. While sitting in an art museum in London talking to the woman who would later become my wife, we got to talking about our favorite childhood toys. Both of us had Legos at the top of our lists. I don't know what would have happened is she had said jacks but from then on, I knew we were meant for each other. I often wish that it was still acceptable for a grown adult to play with Legos. My parents still have the two suitcases of Legos at their house saving them for my children someday. But I am afraid a thirty one year old man playing with Legos would be looked on in a bad sort of way. But if I were alone in a room for a couple hours with a pile of Legos dumped out on the floor, you better believe I would be there on my hands and knees, stirring the pile looking for that dang illusive small piece that I need to complete my latest creation.